Dealing With Negative Reviews Online

Grow and prosper

If you’re a business with an online presence, getting the odd negative review is par for the course. While us Brits find it a challenge to make a complaint about something with a staff member face to face, many more think nothing of taking to their social media site of choice and laying into a business.

Sometimes the criticism has grounding and the customer deserves to be heard and receive an explanation and in some cases compensation. However, there are occasions when customers will simply use their online audience and clout as a way to bully a business into giving them a discount or freebie.

For most good business owners a negative review is something that they will want to avoid, especially if it’s a small business where the owner is directly involved and has a personal attachment to it. A negative review or unjust criticism can feel akin to someone taking a pop at your child (most people know how that feels!).

Now that even the smallest businesses should have an online presence, it’s something that business owners are going to have to face up to and have a strategy in place for dealing with.

Have a set of principles and stick to them

You may not realise it but you probably already have a set of business principles. You know the course of action you would take for example if someone returns a faulty good or if a client doesn’t like their new haircut. You will have dealt with difficult situations face to face before. Take these principles, put them into words and write them down somewhere. This should form the basis of your online strategy. For example your principles might be; act with integrity, be respectful to the client, be firm but fair, apologise and take compensatory action if the client has a genuine reason to complain.

The only difference with online is that it’s in the public domain and people tend to act in a more extreme manner, which means it’s even more important that you act with tact and diplomacy.

What to do first

You’ve received a negative review online, what do you do first?


That’s right, take a step back and do nothing. The worst thing you can do is dive in and repond with anger/upset/frustration. Only answer when you can read the review with minimal emotion welling up in you.

Decide on a course of action

Once emotions have settled you need to identify;

  • What has caused the issue
  • Has the business contributed to the issue
  • What would make the situation right for both parties

  • Focus on the desired outcome. Usually you want to maintain customer satisfaction and minimise any damage to the reputation of your brand. Think through your potential courses of action and decide which is most likely to elicit the response you want.

    If your business has been the cause, or at least contributed to the cause of complaint then in most situations it’s better to be honest and offer an apology. In more extreme cases some kind of compensation or gesture may be appropriate.

    If your business has not been the cause at all, then explain the situation sticking to the facts. Be respectful at all times – even if the recipient doesn’t appreciate it, it will be noted by anyone else watching.

    Do you have a marketing/pr person?

    If you have a marketing or pr person then ask them what their response would be. Marketing/pr people will have experience in dealing with situations like this and may be able to word a response better than you, they will also be more impartial if it’s not their business.

    Take it offline

    You should aim to only make one public response to the situation, regardless of who was in the right. End your response with the offer of a private communication like an email, phone call, or if the situation requires it, a face to face meeting.

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